<<This is part of sample chapter on violent and opportunistic crime in the Philippines from our book, Chasing Your Phlippine Dream. It was one of the chapters that got lost due to a Dropbox sync issue, and we will be updating everyone’s present edition when it is completed.>>
Opportunistic and Violent Crimes in the Philippines
Outside of falling off cliffs and crashing your scooter into a carabao, dangers in the Philippines take one of five possible forms: Opportunistic crime, violent crime, hazardous wildlife, dangerous areas and scams.
Many of the dangers we are going to talk about here are concerns that one could experience in any part of the world. With that said, however, there are few caveats to this. First off, the extent of crimes such as robbery, burglary, blackmail, scams and fraud are magnified in the Philippines, primarily due its status as a developing nation and the staggering gaps between the have’s and the have not’s. Finally, one also has to consider the fact that many of us are strangers in a strange land and unused to the how and why of how the culture functions – we are outside the “flow of life,” and that fact alone can make many folks susceptible to the dangers and hazards of the Philippines. Even just the (usually) simple task of reporting trouble can be daunting in the Republic – outside of major metropolitan areas there really are no universal “911” emergency reporting phone numbers to call.
As we just noted, opportunistic crime is more prevalent here than it is the west. Home or apartment burglaries, pick pocketing, fraud, and blackmail all belong to this criminal subset. And since most of us are easily recognized as foreigners (being lighter skinned and possessed of immobile eyebrows), that information alone is enough to paint a target on our backs. For as we know, all foreigners are rich…
NOTE: Unlike in the United States, there is no real central repository for crime information in the Philippines, especially when it comes to crimes against foreigners. The prevalence of opportunistic and violent crimes, therefore is mostly garnered through local media outlets and anecdotal information shared among foreigners here.
Operating Areas: Wherever you lay your head and have your “stuff.”
Precautions: Take proper security measures when both searching for an available rental property and when leaving it for any amount of time. Keep high value items like passports and credit cards somewhere relatively safe – either a safe deposit box or a decent stash spot.
Even with walls and security grates, doors still get kicked in and valuables still get stolen. In the case of burglaries, an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure, so when you are looking for a long term rental be sure to note all the security related precautions we noted in the house hunting chapter – looking for gates, solid locks, security grates, proper lighting, and the like. Be sure to lock your doors at all times (even when you are inside) and make sure expensive gadgets like cell phones and laptops are not sitting out in the open for passersby to see.
Also be sure to set yourself up a stash spot. And no, we’re not talking about the toilet bowl reservoir – everyone knows about that one! If you cannot secure a safe deposit box after your arrival, finding a stash for your spare cash, credit and ID cards is very important. Most criminals are not going to have the time or leisure to search every nook and cranny in your abode, so don’t make it easy on them.
Knowing and talking with your neighbors is also a good way to cut down on burglaries, as everyone in the community should have an interest in keeping bad guys away. If you get along well with your neighbors, you can also let them know if you are going away on an extended trip so they can keep an eye on things. Also, note that Foreigners are not allowed to own firearms in the Philippines, so having a gun in the house (unless it is in your Filipina wife or girlfriends’ name) is a no-no.
Portable motion detection alarms can also be a wise investment in the Philippines. New technologies are always coming out, so check out a big online retailer like Amazon for information and reviews on the latest gadgets. I purchased two simple twenty dollar motion detectors than run off rechargeable batteries, and they work quite well – they won’t physically stop and intruders but the alarms are so loud as to give them second thoughts on hanging around after they go off.
Operating Areas: The pro’s stick to large urban areas frequented by foreigners – other opportunistic extortion attempts can be made anywhere in the country.
Precautions: The best defense against extortion attempts is the knowledge as to what they are. Resisting the lesser attempts (property/personal damage) can be done be insisting that the authorities be called in. For the much more dangerous underage Filipina attempt (or any of it’s variants), paying up and getting the heck out of Dodge might be a recommended course of action.
The statistical data is yet again not available on this one, but there are a number of ways in which a foreigner can be extorted in the Philippines. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common ones.
The Underage Filipina: She tells the foreigner that she is 18 years of age and might even show a valid ID (of an older relative or friend), but the truth is that she is underage. Depending on the circumstances, the family might then express outrage and pressure the foreigner to provide “compensation” in lieu of them going to the police or – in more targeted attacks – the Filipina’s accomplice (boyfriend or pimp) might rush in or come across them doing the deed, demanding the same. In both cases, the end goal is the same – separate the foreigner from his money. Note that sex with an underage Filipino is a no-bail offense, so unscrupulous members of Filipino society know that they have a great deal of leverage in these situations. If you get hit with this one, I’d lean towards paying up and taking the first flight out to anywhere else but where you were at.
She Won’t Leave: It is notoriously difficult to break up with a Filipina, with massive drama, rage, yelling and screaming usually ensuing. Faced with all the sundry ramifications of losing their foreign partner, some Filipinas might pressure the expat with any number of threats, including – but not limited to – charges of rape, assault, abuse and the like. I have personally seen this happen on more two occasions (once right in front of me), and it is something to keep in mind. Again, many Filipinos recognize that they have the upper hand in legal (or quasi-legal) matters in the Philippines, and will use that to their advantage. As with the underage situation noted above, this one can usually be “solved” by passing over a goodly amount of pesos.
Personal/Property Damage: This is probably the most commonly experienced extortion shakedown for foreigners in the Philippines. The expat gets into a car or motorcycle accident with a Filipino. If the local is dirty, he or she will then make any and all attempts to “settle” the matter on the spot without any interference from the authorities. You can differentiate between a civil negotiation and the attempted extortion because the in the latte the cost of the repairs and/or any relevant medical care will be massively exaggerated – in these cases, criminally so. This is yet another case of Filipinos knowing the local legal system and recognizing that foreigners are more likely seen to be at fault by the police and judicial system.
These are just a few strains of the extortion schemes that one may encounter in the Philippines. Just remember at all times that as a foreigner, you will be perceived as being wealthy, and that there are unscrupulous persons about who would like nothing less than getting themselves a slice of that pie.
Larceny (Pick Pocketing)
Operating Areas: Like the common cold, pickpockets thrive in crowded, congested venues. Be on the lookout for them in bus and jeepney stations, ports, fiestas,, concerts and busy tourist areas.
Precautions: Always carry your valuables in your front pockets (and make sure the pockets are deep). Keep your hand on your valuables when transitioning through crowds. Some companies offer “slash proof” backpacks and carry alls that can defeat the hand razors that pick pockets are known to employ.
Known as “pok-pok” in the Philippines, these sleight of hand masters are incredibly gifted when it comes to relieving you of your personal items. Typically after money (kwarta), Filipino pickpockets will also help themselves to cameras, passports, bank and credit cards, cell phones, and virtually anything else that you can cram into your pockets. The majority of these guys are very good, so if you are not careful, you won’t even be aware that you have been pick pocketed until well after the fact. Be on the lookout for someone trying to distract you in someone (the accomplice) so that the main player can do his work. And as Jens Peters notes, don’t ever bend over to pick coins or small bills off a jeepney floor! Finally, pick pockets are another reason not to use money changers on the street – they will even most likely be in on the scam, having their pok-pok partner relieve you of the converted cash soon after your transaction with them is complete.
Operating Area: Usually dimly lit urban areas in the rougher part of town. Alternatively anywhere if someone is stupid enough to get drunk and start blundering about like an idiot.
Precautions: Don’t carry around large amounts of money. Don’t wear flashy jewelry.
It’s a poor country, so be aware that opportunistic criminals will be around to try to separate you from your valuables. This is usually a concern in the “seedier” areas of large urban centers, but it can actually occur in any locale if you are putting yourself in poor circumstances. As with all crimes, situational awareness is imperative here – as is staying away from unlit, poorer (or known tourist) areas, not wearing flashy jewelry and watches, and not walking around with your expensive iPhone in hand. It’s all common sense, really, but sometimes as tourists or newly arrived expats, we are lacking a bit in that department. If you do happen to get robbed, simply pass on your valuables – many crimes here are fueled by “shabu” (methamphetamine) dependence, and those guys and gals usually aren’t in best states of mind. Don’t try to be a hero.
Operating Areas: Anywhere.
Precautions: Don’t be extravagant in showing off your wealth. Don’t let people know your intimate financial details. Carefully vet house help during the hiring process. Make sure your significant other knows that you are more valuable to her alive than dead.
A good number of foreigners are murdered in the Philippines every year. As usual, the government does not provide any hard statistics on just how many are killed – just recognize the fact that it does happen. In most cases, the motivation seems to be monetary gain – love of money once again being the root of all evil. What is shocking is just how little money it takes to get one murdered in the Philippines. In the past few months (July/August 2015) a foreigner was murdered in Bohol after picking up 20,000 pesos ($435 USD) from the bank for his work crew and another expat and his wife were murdered in Bacolod and dumped in a well for around 30,000 pesos ($650 USD). In the last instance, the couple’s four house help were all arrested and seem to have confessed.
Again, even though they are not officially recorded, there do seem to quite a few murders of expats in the Philippines, especially when one considers that the foreigner population makes up such a small percentage of the country’s population.
When it comes to these murders, most of them seem to arise out of a sense of displaced honor (or face) or – to a greater sense –perceived opportunities to hit the “get rich” jackpot. These are not crimes committed by your typical poor Filipino seeking to put food on the table for his family – remember at all times that the vast majority of Filipinos are simple, God fearing folk who accept their lot in life without much complaint (“bahala na”). Instead, these murders seem to be most often perpetuated by people that the foreigner knows – drivers, maids, construction workers or boyfriends or friends of those same people. To a lesser extent, they are done by people that the foreigner doesn’t know – in those cases, it is usually the secret boyfriend of the expat’s Filipina wife or girlfriend. Motives in these cases are usually the universal ones – jealousy, substance abuse, resentment and sexual manipulation.
Most of these murders occur in the foreigner’s residence, whether it be a house, apartment or hotel. With that in mind, however, you will also see cases of foreigners killed outside their homes, but in these situations they were usually followed from their domicile. And again, in the vast majority of the cases, the perpetrator is usually someone that the foreigner knew – not a faceless stranger caught burglarizing his home or a random Muslim extremist. In a good number of these crimes, there is no break in at all – the murderer is either let in or is aware of some security vulnerability on the grounds.
Once in, the murder is conducted for reasons relative to the original motivation: The expat resists an attempted robbery, the worker is recognized, or the expat victim is simply “taken out” so that the secret boyfriend and Filipina wife/girlfriend can finally be united in true love and live happily ever after….
Assault and Battery (Fighting)
Operating Areas: Usually roadside bars right after the cockfights on Sunday night.
Precautions: Simply don’t get confrontational with Filipinos. Maintain patience at all times. At the very least, read the chapter on amor propio and hiya to get basic understanding of Filipino psychology.
Although they are notorious for being kind and pleasant, Filipinos don’t appreciate feeling bullied or shamed by an uptight foreigner. Yes, they will usually go out of their way to avoid confrontation, but when faced down by an aggressive or excessively rude foreigner, be assured that they will react. Getting into a fight with a Filipino is generally a “lose-lose scenario”: Even if you “win” the fight, you have just created the grounds for a long-term vendetta not only with that particular Filipino but every member of his extended clan, and if the police are called in, they will more likely than not take the side of their fellow countryman.
NOTE: “Fair fights” are not really a reality in the Philippines, which is understandable given the relative size differences between foreigners and Filipinos – so don’t be shocked when their friends jump in to help them out. Also remember that an inebriated Filipino can be dangerous – with imagined slights becoming magnified and perhaps a bit of long pent up frustration and resentment manifesting themselves in most unpleasant ways.